Saturday flag marches 'duty of PSNI'

Published Tuesday, 26 February 2013
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Parades Commission chairman Peter Osborne has told UTV that responsibility for the weekend flag marches in Belfast lies with police, not them.

Saturday flag marches 'duty of PSNI'
Large demonstrations culimating at City Hall have taken place in recent weeks. (© UTV)

For the past 11 weeks, loyalists have walked through city centre to protest against changes to the council's policy on flying the Union flag.

It has led to criticism over how the demonstrations are handled by the authorities and calls for the commission to intervene.

Mr Osborne said they have dealt with 30 or so parades which have been notified, but explained that the Saturday afternoon demonstrations have not.

"First of all the protests that have been related to flags don't come under the Parades Commission, the Parades Commission has responsibility for parades and protests related to parades so the bulk of issues about flags have not been for the Parades Commission," he said.

"If a parade is not notified the legal advice we have is very straight, if it's not notified it is an unlawful procession and it is then a policing matter to manage under public order."

It [Saturday march] has not been notified to the commission, and if it is a procession as the police say and is an unlawful and illegal procession it needs to be considered by the police.

Peter Osborne

Chief Constable Matt Baggott said the laws surrounding unnotified parades may need to be reviewed to provide more of a deterrent against illegal demonstrations.

"I remain concerned that the current Public Processions Act does not provide sufficient deterrence to those breaking the law," said the PSNI chief.

"The required standard of proof to convict is high and the Act would benefit from review."

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly responded by saying: "Any un-notified parade or protest march is illegal and therefore anyone participating in them is breaking the law.

"The PSNI need to act on this fact and stop facilitating law-breaking."

Local MLA Conall McDevitt said the flags protestors have "long since forfeited their right to peaceful protest".

"The illegal flag protests are now a policing matter," the SDLP politician continued. "The protestors have long since forfeited their right to peaceful protest.

"What they are engaged in is illegal and unjustified."

The first Orange Order parade of the marching season took place peacefully over the weekend - however there are concerns that this year could be volatile.

A senior member of the organisation revealed they may sideline the Parades Commission this summer by not notifying it about parades.

Mr Osborne said he does not think that will happen.

He continued: "I would be really surprised if that was a policy direction the Orange Order wanted to take, first of all because where they should be at is upholding the law.

"I think they and everybody else in civic society should be trying to reduce tensions around parading and finding agreement and it's clear an unlawful parade would raise tensions."

A disrupted marching season is not inevitable, nor is the violence which we have seen on our streets over recent months.

Matt Baggott

Stewart Dickson, Alliance MLA, said parading groups cannot be allowed to flout the law.

"The law is clear," he said. "Those who organise or participate in a parade that has not been notified through the appropriate channels are committing an offence.

"We cannot allow the law to be flouted in Northern Ireland. It must be made clear to those who propose to ignore the notification requirements that they face prosecution.

"Inflammatory statements made in recent weeks have not helped matters."

Mr Osborne added that people have a choice this summer to avoid scenes of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland, claiming fears of a turbulent marching season are not inevitable and calling for increased dialogue to diffuse tensions following months of flag protests.

"People have a choice. Recent events have demonstrated what happens when poor choices are made - there is disruption, disorder and rioting on our streets," he said.

"This summer we want people to make different choices, a choice of engagement, a choice of respect for others, a choice of law and order. Everyone has these choices in front of them, parading organisations, local communities, politicians and wider civic society."

The marching season comes to a climax on 12 July with thousands of loyal order members taking part in parades across NI to mark the Battle of the Boyne.

It celebrates the victory of William III over the Catholic James II in July 1690.

Mr Baggott added: "I hope that parades will take place safely and with respect for all cultures and backgrounds."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Sean og in Co Down wrote (701 days ago):
Come on PSNI do your job a stop these illegal parades?!!? Keep our streets free from thuggery!!!
Mac in N. Belfast wrote (701 days ago):
The Orange Order are a blight on this otherwise beautiful place. I once persuaded my parents to visit in July so that they could see the place at its best. They were reluctant but came anyway. I ended up wishing they hadn't as on the day they left, they were confronted with burning vehicles on the Newtownards Road. They were so frightened that they never came back during the summer and would never have visited again had I gone back home to live. Ban all these triumphalist marches and make the Orange Order illegal because they are a serious embarrassment to the good people of Northern Ireland, then maybe this lovely country will recover and flourish.
Harry in Carrickfergus wrote (701 days ago):
When has it became illegal to protest against, what the majority of people, both protestant and catholic unionists, believe to be an unjustly decision ? They are not parades, marches, or illegal gatherings, they are protests and a cival rite of any man or woman to show their discontent, irrespective it their political or religious views.
Brendy in N.Belfast wrote (701 days ago):
Ok so just to make that clear then, for protesters who illegally take to the roads while protesting without getting approval from the commission while walking to and from city hall and alike. You may be arrested if the PSNI think you are breaking any law, which you are. So either walk on the footpaths, use public transport get to protests in a law abiding fashion and nothing will happen to you. Otherwise prepare for more arrests. Judge Judy has spoken.
Zach Hinds in belfast wrote (701 days ago):
This so called police service have facilitated and for want of a better expression, aided and abetted the illegal blockade of roads for over 2 months.I have no confidence in Baggott or his Gold Silver and Yellow Command structure to police this province and deal with the thuggery and disorder on our streets.
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